Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who gained power over the Liberal (i.e. conservative) Party and government by a dishonorable intra-party coup, is continuing to delight the left and disgust the conservatives of his own party.
He has done conservatism in Australia enormous damage. In the damage he has also done to standards of honorable behavior in public life, he rivals or perhaps surpasses Bill Clinton.
Australia’s major conservative party has had some disappointing leaders — Holt, Gorton, McMahon, even perhaps Turnbull’s politically assassinated predecessor Tony Abbott. But none were actively hostile to fundamental Liberal Party principles, and to the ways of thinking that might generally be called conservative.
To his nauseating praise of Mao Tse-tung (he called history’s greatest mass murderer the man who made the Chinese people stand up, even parroting a phrase in Chinese to do so), Turnbull has now given forth an at least equally emetic paean to Islam and, as a corollary, denigration of the achievements of Western science and other cultures, such as the Hindu achievements in numerals, mathematics and navigation.
John Howard, Australia’s greatest Prime Minister after the Liberal Party’s founder, Sir Robert Menzies, often claimed the party was the guardian of both the liberal and conservative traditions in Australian politics, marrying the legacies of both Edmund Burke and John Stewart Mill (I would prefer to say the legacies of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith).
Now Turnbull, who once told an interviewer that it did not matter which party he led, only so long as he was Prime Minister, looks determined to amputate and discard the Liberal Party’s right or conservative wing, regardless of any considerations of how, or if, it will continue to fly.
The Prime Minister claimed shortly before another Jihadist mass-murder:
Islam is an ancient religion, of great scholarship. I mean — for heaven’s sake — much of our learning and culture came to us from the Muslims, just like, you know, our whole system of numbers and much of the learning of the ancient Greeks only survived because of the Arab scholars and the Islamic scholars.So, you know, the idea that Islam is antithetical to learning or culture or scholarship is absurd. Now, you know, it’s a great tradition. It is important for us that we promote and encourage Islam and Islamic traditions which are moderate, which support freedom, which support democracy and which support Australian values — not in the sense of “Aussie values” — but in the sense of democracy, rule of law, tolerance, freedom. That’s what we’re talking about and they are universal values.
The online edition of the conservative magazine Quadrant commented on this effusion of falsity and bad history: “Turnbull made this statement in order to dismiss a suggestion he considered absurd, namely that Islamic schools in Australia promote extremism. He intended the argument he put forward to be evidence for the inherent moderation of Islam.”
In fact, Quadrant argued, the idea that Western people should feel indebted to Islam for keeping Greek and Hindu learning alive made no sense at all:
Muslim conquests of the Indian subcontinent commenced in the 7th century and, by the early 9th century, Muslim scholars had adopted the Hindu numbering system.… The Hindus were quite capable of preserving their intellectual achievements without the dubious benefits of Islamic conquest. Indeed Hindu societies have preserved the use of the number system they invented right down to the present day.
How can Turnbull imply that the Arabs who passed on this numbering system to the West were “moderate” or supportive of freedom and democracy? “It is not possible to work out whether a society is moderate from the numbering system it uses. Even the ISIS uses the same numbering system as Malcolm Turnbull.”
Greek learning did not need “rescue by Islamic conquest.” It was passed on by Christianity — by monasteries and later by church-sponsored universities in the West, and by Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire in the East.
The conquest of the heart of the Greek-speaking world by Islam, and resulting Arab control of the Mediterranean, stunted scientific progress in Europe. The most serious blows to the fragile flame of the Western scientific, technological, and cultural intellectual tradition were Muslim attacks on it. Around the Mediterranean Muslims destroyed “idolatrous” libraries, including, probably, the greatest of all at Alexandria.
The great historian Henri Pirenne concluded in his classic study, Mohammed and Charlemagne:
The cause of the break with the tradition of antiquity was the rapid and unexpected advance of Islam. The result of this advance was the final separation of East from West, and the end of the Mediterranean unity.… The Western Mediterranean, having become a Mussulman lake, was no longer the thoroughfare of commerce and of thought which it had always been. The West was blockaded and forced to live upon its own resources.
That the Australian Prime Minister leading leading the country’s major conservative party should spout this mishmash of Islamophilic nonsense is bad enough. Certainly his own method of coming to power — an apparent long-term campaign of undermining his elected predecessor while wearing a mask of loyalty — had something of the atmosphere of an Eastern Court about it.
But this paean was followed by another development which may be seen as equally outrageous by those who care about Western Parliamentary traditions and the independence of legislators. (Edmund Burke: “I am your representative but not your delegate.”) The head of the Australian security service is reported to have, apparently at the Prime Minister’s urging, contacted Members of Parliament and urged them to tone down or self-censor any criticism of Islam.
And poor John Howard thought the Liberals carried on the traditions of Edmund Burke!